6 Steps For Manufacturing Plants to Achieve Zero-Waste

Environmental consciousness is at the forefront of consumer’s concerns. The awareness doesn’t extend only to the products they use, but to HOW those products are produced. Everything from soft drinks to tires come under the scrutiny of an ever-increasingly eco-conscious consumer base. Because of this trend in consumer awareness manufacturers in all markets are pushing toward achieving a zero-waste production cycle. Not only does achieving this goal make your products more valuable to customers, in the end, but it can also save your business a lot of money.

Implementing a zero-waste program doesn’t have to be a never-ending, cost-heavy, production-stopping endeavor. With proper planning, you can begin making the changes required to minimize your waste streams and work toward that coveted standard. Here are the 6 steps you will need to take:

Step 1:  Quantify Where You Are Today.

Every project has a starting place, and to achieve zero-waste, you’ve first got to see exactly how much waste you are producing. This baseline is what you’re going to measure future improvements against, so it needs to not only be accurate – it needs to be detailed. Measure you waste by type, as well as by-product being produced. For instance, you may produce a ton of a type of waste for one specific product line, but only produce half a ton of the same waste for a different product. In the end, you will get a direct picture of where you can make the biggest improvements.

Step 2:  Establish a Meaningful but Achievable Goal.

First and foremost, your company needs to establish what “zero-waste” means to you. For some companies, this is less than 5% of waste being thrown away, for others it is less than 10%. Some companies are actually able to achieve total landfill diversion, but it takes time to get to that point. Once you have established where you want to be, you can focus your attention to the areas where you can make improvements and set some goals. There are some very important factors to consider when establishing these goals. For instance, you’ve got to take into account your budget, your timeline, your production schedule, and the local recycling infrastructure you have to work with. Also, keep in mind that there is a myriad of local, state, and federal regulations to pay attention to. These regulations can be major roadblocks, so it’s important to address them immediately to avoid hefty penalties and fines.  If you’ve got multiple production locations, all of these factors can be different for each location. Careful consideration of all of these factors is critical to ultimately establishing realistic, achievable goals. The key word here being: “realistic.”

Step 3: Establish a Zero Waste Roadmap

Even the most achievable of goals needs a plan to get accomplished and setting up a game plan or a roadmap is the most important factor in going from concept to results. The first stop on your roadmap should always be the biggest changes you can make. These “low hanging fruits” can be a great source of momentum for your program because they provide easy, measurable wins. From there, you need to start addressing additional waste streams to divert. These waste streams may take more effort and research to recycle, but they are important steps to the overall goal. From there, your program will really start to focus in on the remaining waste streams, utilizing the experience you’ve gained from the other waste streams you have diverted. A good idea of a successful roadmap looks like this:

  • Year 1: 2 heaviest, easiest to recycle waste
  • Year 2: tackle 3-4 more additional waste streams that may require a bit more research to find proper recycling companies or require a bit more preparation from your employees or may be a bit more expensive but by then, you will have acquired your employees’ trust and desire to do more.
  • Year 3: tackle the rest of the waste streams. The ones that may be more difficult to recycle or may require to change sourcing or how products are manufactured.    This is where you can be creative, try to turn waste into products, use local outlets/donation, etc.

It is also important to include employees in the process of planning. Create groups from each level of your manufacturing process to come up with ideas to improve on the processes you’ve put in place. The people with the most direct interaction with the steps you’re taking are going to be the ones who will have the best input on how well they are working. Make sure also, to explain to your employees the true environmental impact your program is going to have. These are the details that will have the biggest impact on your average employee, over how much money the company is going to save. Once you’ve got these groups put together, it is critical to share the overall goals of the program and establish responsibilities for those goals.

Step 4:  Deploy the Prioritized Program

Now is the time that analysis becomes action. Once you’ve established a “go-live” date for your zero-waste program, having one final meeting with each of your groups to ensure everyone is on the same page is the final planning step before actually putting your plan to work. Now it’s time to actually create results. These first few weeks are the most involved and the most critical. One thing to really pay attention to is ensuring that there is a balance in the program. You don’t want to have one group being pressed harder than others, creating an interruption in your manufacturing process like squeezing a balloon. Having one aspect of your production process bearing the brunt of the entire program can bring the whole program to a halt. When deploying your program, paying close, detailed attention to each step is what maintains that balance and allows you to make adjustments on the fly.

Step 5:  Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

In a process like achieving a zero waste initiative, there is no such thing as “over-communicating.” All employees involved in the program from the C-suite to the manufacturing line employees need to be on the same page. There are far too many moving parts for fine details to be able to fall between the cracks because those details can be the difference between success and failure. Also, by employees seeing the upper management’s involvement through effective communications, there is a sense of uniformity and teamwork that brings everyone together. Share progress regularly – including monthly, quarterly, and yearly figures. To further enhance employee participation, you can even go as far as to offer financial rewards through contests, or group rewards for money saved. Nothing gets employees motivated like rewards. Last, but far from least, share your results with your customers and investors. These are the people who are going to have the most value in a zero-waste program, and they need to know how well you’re doing.

Step 6:  Track & Continually Improve

All the results in the world are meaningless unless you have an effective way to track them. Focus on your key performance indicators (KPIs) that reflect the changes you are trying to make and measure them against your goals. If you’re seeing a deficit in your actual landfill diversion and your goals, this is the time to get with the groups you’ve put together to see what changes can be made. In some case, you can make improvements to your procedures, and in some cases, you may have to adjust your goals. Again, the key here is balance. Once you’ve gotten a picture of your KPIs with the program running, assessing the financial impact of the changes you’ve made makes those results more tangible. When employees and customers can see actual, visible results the program is instantly justified. It makes people feel good about what they are doing understanding that the changes they are making are having a real impact.
At Quest, we understand how important landfill diversion programs are for any business, which is why we’ve made it our goal to help create them across a broad spectrum of industries. From food production and chemical production to manufacturing, we have the experience to put together, manage, and track a zero-waste program that builds value with your employees, customers, and investors.  Contact us today and let’s get started on a program that with waste less and save you more. Quest is sustainability – delivered.

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